Cincinnati Reds Historical Look: Best Offensive/Defensive Tools

At Fangraphs on Wednesday Carson Cistulli looked back through past Baseball America Handbooks at the best tools in each organization. He went on to compile the numbers for the players, though not in the best way in my personal opinion, to test out the accuracy of the listings. I thought it was a good idea to look back on just the Reds farm system through their rankings of the best tools to see exactly how it all panned out. I was only able to go back to the rankings after the 2004 season (through the current Baseball America site and archived pages on Archive.org – it seems when BA updated their site that some of their links didn’t transfer over with them) and I only went up to the rankings after the 2010 season (in order to give players the time to reach the Majors and begin to mature), so the sample size is clearly small and of course with prospects some guys were never able to make it to the Majors. Still, I thought it would be a fun exercise to look back at and talk about.

Best hitter for average

Players listed: Joey Votto, Jay Bruce and Yonder Alonso

Despite there being seven years in the sample there were only three players who took home the nod. All three have made the Major Leagues as full time starters. When looking at minor leaguers and trying to identify those who can hit for a high average there are various things you can look at and depending on who you ask, you could get various answers. Generally speaking, players who hit for a high average are those who understand the strikezone well, can make contact at a solid or better rate, can use the entire field and have a line drive oriented approach.

Joey Votto fits that bill perfectly and he has a career Major League average of .314, which ranks 6th best among current Major Leaguers. Score one for Baseball America. Jay Bruce has yet to reach his prime, but he has only hit over .260 twice in six big league seasons. Based on the scouting scale, Bruce is a below-average hitter for average. Take one away for Baseball America. Yonder Alonso, like Bruce, isn’t at his prime yet and he only has two full seasons in the big leagues and cups of coffee in two others. He is a lifetime .280 hitter in the Majors, which makes him average in this category. If we take into account his home park being very pitcher friendly though he probably deserves a bump up a little bit. I will score one for Baseball America here.

Best hitter for power

Players listed: Joey Votto, Jay Bruce and Juan Francisco

Another category and another group of just three players. Both Votto and Bruce have turned into every day starters, while Francisco is still trying to find a place to stick. When scouts refer to power, they usually mean home runs. There aren’t many guys out there with 50 doubles power who aren’t going to be home run threats, so home run totals is usually a good place to look when judging the outcome of a players power tool. Joey Votto has a career high 37 home runs in a single season, though it is the only year in which he topped 30. His isolated power for his career is .227 (NL average in 2013 was .137). Easy win for Baseball America. Jay Bruce has hit 30 home runs in each of the last three seasons with a career best season of 34. Still not yet in his prime, he has a career isolated power of .225. Another easy win for Baseball America. Juan Francisco has never had 400 at bats in a single season at the big league level and has a career best 18 home runs in a season. But his isolated power is .189. He is also one of only a few players to hit a baseball out of Great American Ballpark. Tougher call than the other two, but I think this is an easy-ish win as well for Baseball America.

Best plate discipline

Players listed: Joey Votto, Chris Denorfia, Paul Janish and Yonder Alonso

We jump up to four players in this group with two regulars, a strong utility player and a back up. Plate discipline is usually seen as the ability to understand and control the strikezone. For me, I like to look at K/BB rate at the big league level to rate this. While it is certainly limited because some guys can understand the zone but still struggle to make contact (like an Adam Dunn), it works for a majority of players.

Joey Votto shows about as good of plate discipline as anyone in the game. He has led the NL in walks each of the last three seasons and has a career K/BB rate of 1.24 (the NL average in 2013 was 2.59 – the lower the better). Easy, easy win for Baseball America. Chris Denorfia saw more than 400 at bats in a season for the first time in 2013, but has had several others over 300 in his career. His career K/BB rate is 1.92. While not as good as Joey Votto, he is still well above-average in the category. Another win for Baseball America. Paul Janish has never been a full time starter in the Majors and the last two years has hardly seen much playing time. His career K/BB rate is 1.89 though, which gives Baseball America another win in my book. Yonder Alonso is the last player on the list. His career K/BB is second best on this list at 1.72 and it marks another win for Baseball America as they complete the sweep in this category.

Fastest baserunner

Players listed: Javon Moran, Brian Roberts, Chris Dickerson, Theo Bowe and Billy Hamilton.

On this list there is one player with more than 25 plate appearances in the Major Leagues and only two with any big league experience. Chris Dickerson has been a part time player or a cup-of-coffee player for the last six seasons. He has 32 career steals in 39 attempts. Billy Hamilton is the only other player on the list with big league experience and he is 13 of 14 in the stolen base category. Baseball America sweeps this category though because being fast isn’t exactly a baseball skillset. All of these guys were awfully fast.

Best athlete

Players listed: BJ Szymanski, Chris Dickerson, Yorman Rodriguez and Billy Hamilton.

Like fastest baserunner, it is very hard to grade this. My best guess would be to try and look at a combination of speed, defense, power and arm strength. I think hitting ability is less athletic and more skill oriented than the rest of those are. Still, it is tough to really put a stat on and only Chris Dickerson really has any big league experience from this list with Hamilton and Rodriguez still quite young. Using my criteria though, Dickerson rates out above-average. His issue has been hitting for average as a big leaguer.

Best defensive catcher

Players listed: Miguel Perez, Craig Tatum, Ryan Hanigan and Yasmani Grandal.

All four of these players made the Major Leagues, though Miguel Perez only garnered three plate appearances. Craig Tatum has seen parts of three seasons, though has only had over 100 plate appearances once. Ryan Hanigan and Yasmani Grandal both have turned themselves into starting catchers. Both players are well noted for their strong pitch framing. Hanigan has a career caught stealing rate of 40% and has led the league once in that category. Yasmani Grandal has a career caught stealing rate of just 20%. Ryan Hanigan is an easy, easy win here. I believe that pitch framing is just as important as the ability to control the running game, so I also have Grandal as a win in this category.

Best defensive infielder

Players listed: Paul Janish, Zack Cozart and Miguel Rojas

Zack Cozart is the only player that turned into an everyday player among this group. Paul Janish has carved out a career as a backup type of guy and Miguel Rojas is just entering his age 25 season and is now with the Dodgers. Zack Cozart has a career fielding percentage of .978 and a UZR/150 of 10.4 (that is elite). Easy win here for Baseball America. Paul Janish has a career fielding percentage of .983 and a UZR/150 of 10.1. Another easy win for the guys at Baseball America. Miguel Rojas has yet to make the Majors, though he is still being viewed as one of the best defenders in baseball.

Best defensive outfielder

Players listed: Chris Dickerson, Drew Stubbs, Dave Sappelt and Ryan LaMarre.

Drew Stubbs is the only player that turned himself into a starter from this group, though LaMarre still has a chance. Dickerson has turned into a backup and Sappelt has had parts of three seasons in the Majors in limited action. Drew Stubbs has a UZR/150 in his career of 2.2. Given that he is a center fielder that is above-average, even if it is just slightly compared to other center fielders, that is an easy win. Chris Dickerson has a career UZR/150 of 19.4, though the sample size is quite small and he has spent time in all three spots, he is another easy win here for the Baseball America crew. Dave Sappelt has an even smaller sample size than Dickerson does, but his UZR/150 is 21.6 which adds another easy win. Ryan LaMarre has yet to make his big league debut.

Overall thoughts

Speed seems to be the tool that translate the least among the group of offensive and defensive tools and the original look by Cistulli at Fangraphs also came to that conclusion. Plate discipline, power and infield/outfield defense seemed to be very easy to predict from the Reds farm system. Catcher defense was too small of a sample size to work with.

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